Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing Resolutions and Goals

by Matt Sinclair

The calendar page will turn soon, and all of a sudden it will be 2012. Of course, it’s not a sudden change. The year has been moving inexorably toward 2012 for lo these 364 days. That’s one nice thing you can count on about time: It keeps moving.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve wished it would move backward so I could change things, add accomplishments, and kiss that pretty girl from high school who I didn’t know liked me until it was too late. Of course, as fiction writers we can go back in time whenever we want, albeit with an unsatisfying lack of reality. But I learned long ago that one way to bridge the time/reality gap is to plan for the future.

Yes, folks, it’s resolution time! I know that not everyone makes resolutions, but I find them very helpful. I actually start drawing up mine in October, but that’s me. I also split them into personal, work/business, and writing-related. Truth is, there’s a fair amount of overlap these days. My writing-related goals include freelance targets (which are boorishly measured in dollar amounts—how unartistic of me!). And those targets help me achieve personal goals (and feed my family, for that matter).

I asked a few of my fellow Write Anglers whether they have writing-related resolutions. Some do, some don’t. I particularly liked what R.C. Lewis said: “One of the most important things I’ve found when setting these goals is to know myself, my schedule, and my capabilities. And not compare my goals to anyone else’s.” Sage words from a sage woman. She added, "To some people, writing three manuscripts in one year is a lot, to others it’s nothing. And that doesn’t matter."

Some people like having quarterly targets, others break them down to months, some simply plot an annual goal: I’ll write this book and edit that one, for example. At AgentQuery Connect, Mindy McGinnis oversees what she calls the “Writing Odometer,” which is a daily and monthly list of personal goals. There’s nothing mandatory about it, but it’s helpful for those of us—myself included—who like the added pressure of making our goals a bit more public. They seem more real that way. She added that it’s helpful to share your goals with your critique partners. (A good goal, by the way, is to join a critique group if you haven’t already.) Crit partners can help you write when you don’t think you can muster the energy.

Because writing is a Sisyphean task, it’s good to have someone cheering you on to push that rock up the hill.

Just imagine if you pledged to write 350,000 words in one year. It might sound impossible in January. But a daily kilo of words would get you over that hump easily. You could even skip your birthday, Thanksgiving, and your favorite winter holiday and still be done by mid-December.

But writers are never done. There’s always another scene to write, another query to craft, another synopsis to sum up, and characters to corral—or at least make the attempt.

Got any ideas for resolutions you care to share? Did you meet your goals for 2011?

Whether you articulate your goals or not, I hope you meet them. From all of us at From the Write Angle, have a wonderful New Year. We’ll see you again in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part Three: Strategies

by R.S. Mellette

If I had all the answers about how to turn your work into a finished blockbuster movie, I wouldn't be writing this blog. Or maybe I would, but the sound outside my office window would be waves crashing on a Hawaiian beach, not cars on the 405 freeway.

In past installments (see Part One and Part Two) I wrote about what not to do. Don't send your work directly to a studio. Instead, you want to build a team of supporters.

What your team looks like will depend entirely on you. If you're not in Hollywood, I'd say look around locally. Most universities have film departments now, which means kids will be making movies. Talk to professors there, see if you can volunteer to help. Get in touch with the filmmaking teams in your area and work your way up. Six degrees of separation starts with your first crew credit.

But if you don't want to go that route, you can do the query thing. Query letters are not standard in the film business, so you'll have a hard time finding the data you need. Start with a current copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory and a subscription to IMDBpro. You're looking for a manager, not an agent.

Whole textbooks have been written on the differences between a manager and an agent. "Manager" has really become another word for producer. They will work to get the project of yours that they like produced. If they can stay on as a producer, then you don't have to pay them anything, which is nice. If not, they generally get 15-20% of your cut. These days, agents act more like lawyers. They really earn their money when it comes to collecting contract bonuses and participation money. In other words, stuff you don't need to worry about yet.

Managers come in all shapes and sizes, and they aren't governed by California state laws the way agents are, so you have to be careful who you deal with. They are also one of the few groups that will read your query letter.

One of the other groups is a production company, which basically does all the work you think a movie studio does in terms of making a movie. The bigger ones have deals with studios – like Imagine with Universal, Village Roadshow with Warner Bros. etc. A major production company can be as big and impersonal as a studio, so best to avoid those without an introduction by a manager or agent.

Small companies might be more approachable. This will take some research. For example, say you've got a nice little Christmas story. These things show up by the thousands on the Lifetime Network, Hallmark Channel, etc. So, research the titles, get on IMDBpro to find the production company, and send them a query.

Summing up. You need to build a team. Start small. Be patient. Keep at it.

Now it's time for me to take my own advice and get some of my own stuff sold!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Write Angle Holiday Wishes

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peaceful Solstice. Happy Holidays.

As the world gets smaller we find ourselves having clashes of culture. People on TV run around telling us what Christmas "should be" instead of what it is to them.

After all, isn't that what the Holiday is about? What your family did to celebrate as a kid. What you, as an adult, do with your family now. And how that makes you feel in your heart. If there is a Spirit of Christmas, isn't it really the best of the spirit inside each of us?

So, we here at From The Write Angle would like to share with you a bit about what the Holiday means to each of us, and we invite you to do the same, right here in the comments for this post.

And maybe when your spirit has run dry, when the Holidays are far away, you can come here again to drink from the well of the Winter Solstice—to warm your heart in the face of a world that can get cold.

R.S. Mellette

About 4 billion years ago, a giant rock smashed into the earth. This rock was so big that it nearly destroyed the planet. The part that broke off became our moon, and the earth has wobbled ever since. Because of this wobble, we have four distinct seasons: Summer, when the earth tilts toward the sun; Winter, when it tilts away, and the two seasons between, Fall and Spring.

Over the past 100,000 years, humans have developed holidays to mark the change in seasons. Fall brings Harvest/Celebration of the Dead as darkness encroaches. Spring: resurrection/fertility as life returns. Summer is full of hard work and bounty, and deadly heat, so there aren't as many universal celebrations.

Winter is the birth of a new year. Hope builds, as every day after the solstice gets a little longer. It has also become a time for the giving of gifts, and I say that's a good thing.

Charity is humiliating. There is an element of cruelty to it. Charity is a drop in the bucket of poverty and wont. It says to the receiver, "you have failed, and must rely on the kindness of strangers."

But strangers are kind. Helping others makes us feel good. So in the depths of Winter, when food and warmth are scarce, instead of giving charity to a few, we give gifts to all. Some are trinkets, toys offering the warmth of a smile. Some are sustenance, bare necessities to get a family through to spring. Given as gifts, none are charity. There is no stigma.

Now, as American society has become consumer-driven, the buying of gifts has become a gift itself. Target and Wal-Mart hire more people. Money moves from hand-to-hand, stopping along the way to feed a child, or pay for heat.

So the next time you hear Christmas music the day after Halloween, or see Santa before you eat your Thanksgiving Turkey, have a smile. Humans are doing what we have done since our time began. We are, without realizing it, helping each other.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peaceful Solstice. Have fun Shopping.

Darke Conteur

As the holiday season quickly approaches, I feel blessed that I can celebrate both Christmas with my husband and his family, and Yule. There are so many similarities with traditions between the two, even though the meanings are completely different.

My main ritual is private and personal. I am not part of a coven so I do my rite on my own. I light candles, meditate, but I've merged most of what I do with my husband's celebrations, which means I start celebrating a few days before Yule, and finish the season with a New Year's Eve Cleansing Ritual, to help release the negative energy I'm accumulated over the year.

Christians and Pagans are not the only ones who celebrate this time of year. Many cultures around the world deem this time of year special. Buddhists have Dōngzhì Festival, Hebrew celebrate Hanukkah. There is Kwanzaa for African Americans and the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti.

There is so much to celebrate and I wish each of you a Blessed and Happy Holidays, which ever path you follow.

Jemi Fraser

We have a recipe for Scottish toffee in our family. It’s a soft vanilla fudge that melts in your mouth. You really don’t even have to chew. Delicious stuff! From start to finish, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour of continuous stirring. You can’t leave it for even a few seconds or it’s ruined. It has to boil at just the right level for the perfect length of time. Too high or too long, and it’s hard. Too low, and it won’t hold its shape. Sadly, once it’s ruined, you have to toss it out and start again.

So, why do I bother?

It’s more than the incredible scent filling the house. We think I’m the 4th generation to make it. While I stir, I think of all of those who’ve made it before me. I remember meeting great Uncle Willie and taking my first taste. I remember being allowed to stir for the first time. My first solo effort. And the first batch I had to toss out.

Sweetness. Memories. Family. Laughter. Love. That’s what Christmas means to me.

Matt Sinclair

I was a bit of a brat as a kid. Among my earliest memories of Christmas is paging through the toy section of the Sears catalog (yes, I’m old enough to remember that) to see what I wanted Santa to get me. I also remember sneaking into my parents’ closet where I discovered (and played with) unwrapped presents. Who knew Santa’s workshop was in my parents’ bedroom! But as much as I enjoyed receiving gifts, I loved—and still love—being with family. Being held by my mother in the crowded church on Christmas Eve, the scent of fireplaces in the neighborhood, the rare snowflakes falling as we left my grandfather’s house: everything revolved around family and the home. I hope my daughters learn to love such moments, too. As writers, we draw on everything in our memories to shape the lives of our characters. I’m thankful I have goodness to give.

Cat Woods

I grew up on the wrong side of poor. Christmas for us was sparse in the present department, though not in love. Most of our gifts came in the form of frivolous necessities: earmuffs instead of stocking hats, or the coveted overalls of the early eighties instead of a simple pair of jeans.

My sister and I learned early on to make gifts for those we loved. Our favorite: emergency money kits. We would creatively package our odd change and write instructions that the money only be used in dire circumstances.

Our second favorite: gifts for Santa's Mouse, a tradition we learned as kindergarteners and still carry through with our children today. In the weeks preceeding Christmas, we wound tiny balls of yarn, broke toothpicks in half for knitting needles and wrapped our gifts for Santa to take back to Mrs. Mouse so she could knit warm sweaters for Mr. Mouse.

Every Christmas morning, we would wake at 4:00am to scour the tree for presents from Santa's Mouse. These were tiny gifts of whimsy tied with a yellow ribbon and completely devoid of necessity.

About five years ago, I learned that my paternal grandfather had been saved a few times by our little stashes of cash he carried in his glove compartment. It's nice to know that small things really do matter.

R.C. Lewis

In all my life (and I won't mention exactly how many years that is), I've never spent Christmas away from home. Thanksgiving, yes. My two years of graduate school put me two thousand miles away from my family. But both years, I managed to fly home for Christmas.

We don't have major traditions, but I've always enjoyed the small familiarities. How many of our nativity sets will we unpack to decorate with this year? (We have somewhere around fifty, I think.) Dad's coronary-inducing scrambled eggs Christmas morning. Eggnog mixed with ginger ale. Christmas Eve with my mother's side of the family, and Christmas night with my father's.

Gifts always fall much lower on the list. My sister-in-law recently asked what I wanted for Christmas, and it was hard to think of anything. I was already in town with my family, so what else could I want?

What thoughts, wishes, and memories are on your mind this holiday season? Please share. We'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Santa's Gift to Writers

by Calista Taylor

With the price of e-readers dropping under $100—$79 for the Kindle with advertisements—many have speculated that there will be a whole lot e-readers sitting pretty under the tree this holiday season. This means there's going to be a big jump in the number of people owning e-readers, and that's a whole lot of people buying eBooks.

If there was any doubt as to whether or not e-readers and eBooks were here to stay, it's likely those thoughts have been laid to rest. And as writers, we've never had more options open to us. If there was ever a time to consider the benefits of e-publishing, now would be it.

This doesn't mean you should stop pursuing a traditional publishing deal if that's your dream. However, there's nothing to say you can't pursue both avenues. In fact, e-publishing an eBook, especially when there's going to be a jump in those purchasing eBooks, could help you build a readership. Do you have some great short stories laying around? Or how about the wonderful manuscript you shelved because the market was doing something different when you queried it?

The best part is that it costs you nothing to e-publish a book on a site (I'm not saying that it will not cost to get a book professionally edited or a cover professionally made). And the royalty percentages are considerably higher than that of traditional publishing deals. This means you can price your book to your advantage, and still make out well because of the higher royalty rate.

Though there is currently a bit of a slush pile with eBooks, I still believe that a great book will rise to the top. I think more and more writers will soon be joining the eBook revolution, so now is a great time to stick a toe in the water, especially while that slush pile is still relatively small.

If you do decide to venture into the eBook waters, make sure you have a polished manuscript and a great cover. If you want to be successful in this venture, it will not happen with a poorly written and edited manuscript. As always, quality is a must if you're to rise to the top of the slush.

So, what do you think? Is publishing electronically something you've considered? Or have you already jumped in with both feet?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting to Know You...

by Jemi Fraser

... Getting to know all about you...

Okay, now I'm going to have that song stuck in my head for a while... (it's from The King & I for those of you who don't know :)) In the song, Anna is a teacher and she's talking about the joys of getting to know her new students.

As writers, we need to know our characters too. And we need to know them even better than we know our spouses, our best friends, our kids, and maybe even ourselves. We need to get right inside their heads and understand all of their wants, needs, hopes, dreams, fears, and everything else going through their hearts.

So, how do we do it?

There are many methods. It's important to find one that works for you. It's also fun to try out what other people do and see if you can use part or all of it yourself.

Character question sheet or a fact list. You can start with the easier stuff like physical attributes, then move into the internal items - what makes your character tick and get ticked off. Or you can make a list of all their favourite things. Or make a list of choices (coffee or tea, gun or knife, summer or fall) and decide which they'd prefer. There are all kinds of these question sheets floating around the web.

Character collage. Cruise around the internet or flip through magazines looking for photos that resemble your characters, their favourite places, outifts they would wear, ... Keep the images nearby for inspiration when you're writing.

Music playlist. Find songs your character would listen to, or songs that remind you of their personalities. Play these when you're writing to keep you in the right mood!

Sketches. You don't have to be an aritst to do this. But sketching what the characters look like can give you insights into their feelings & their personalities.

Backstory. Go ahead and write out some of that backstory and get to know your character. Write about the traumatic incidents in their past that affect who they are today. Write about those pivotal childhood moments that solidified their paths in life. None of it will probably ever make your final draft, but writing it out might make the characters more real.

So which of these do I use? Um... none. Instead I let the characters walk around in my head for a few days or weeks while I focus on anything but them. I let my subconscious take over. The story percolates in the background and the characters become three dimensional. By the time I sit down to write, my characters are real people - at least to me!

How do you make your characters real for you? Any tips to share?

Friday, December 16, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part Two: Coverage

by R.S. Mellette

When last we left your intrepid novel's journey through Hollywood, it had just been logged into the tracking software and sent to the Story Department, where it sat patiently awaiting a reader.

Readers are people who basically write book reports for a living. They read whatever is submitted, from Steven Spielberg's next project to the janitor's best friend's niece's creative writing assignment that her parents know will be the next blockbuster.

The report they write for your submission is called "coverage."

Coverage is always 3 pages long. Page one has a header that includes: Type of Material (Screenplay, Manuscript, Novel, Article, etc.), Number of Pages, Publisher/Date, Submitted by (agent, manager, production company, author), Submitted to (that's the person who works for the Studio), Analyst (the Reader), Title, Author, Submission (Project, Speculative, Sample), Circa, Locations, Drama Category, Elements.

That last one is key. That's where any attachments will be listed. If that's left blank, and the submission is a spec—meaning a speculative script hoping to find a producer—the result will be a pass. At least on the studio level.

Below the header is the log line. This is one or two sentences written by the reader that sums up the whole story. Hopefully, this will read just like your elevator pitch. After that is a straight plot synopsis that runs about a page and a half. On the last page is the comment section where the reader writes a brief review.

Back on the top page, there will also be a little chart like this:

Excellent Good Fair Poor






Project: ____PASS____ Writer: ____Consider___

There is an unwritten rule that all submissions to a studio without talent attached will be given a PASS. No one in the corporate world wants to put their kid's college tuition on the line for a risky project.

For this reason, you should never submit anything directly to a studio.


Remember that tracking software? The coverage for your project never goes away, and your work won't be read twice—not without some major pull, and even then it's given "comparative coverage." That means the same reader reviews their old report, reads your new version, and writes new coverage that talks only about the changes. Both sets of coverage are then sent to the executive who requested it.

So, say on a whim you send in your unpublished novel to a studio. Since you've got no clout behind it, they automatically pass. The analyst makes sure to write in the coverage good reasons for the pass. Your review will not be a good one.

Then, your sell your manuscript. Two years later it's a minor best-seller and your agent submits it to the same studio.

The first step of logging in a submission, is to check to see if it hasn't already been read. If it has, the assistant will print a copy of the old coverage, clip it to the nice new hardcover of your book and put it in their boss's inbox, skipping the Story Department entirely.

In other words, you're screwed.

In Part Three, I'll discuss ways to avoid bad coverage.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Extend Your Shelf Life: Tackling the Library Market

by Cat Woods

Personally, I love libraries. I love the atmosphere, the sense of peace and the very smell of thousands of amassed books. I hope someday, my books will love the library as well. As a writer of juvenile literature, I fully realize the library market has the ability to make a title.

Young kids take weekly trips to the library from their classrooms. There, they are exposed to hundreds of books and authors they otherwise would never hear about. Think of libraries as television commercials for the elementary student. Students are captive audiences to the books on the shelves, and when they find one they like, they become instantly gratified. Books are checked out and drug home in back packs for use as bed time stories. In this scenario, both parents and children can fall in love with an author and look for new titles to grace their private collections at home.

In middle school and high school, books are often bought for classroom curriculum. If your title is picked, multiple copies are purchased to be read year after year. Not to mention, teens and preteens visit the library to check out the newest author-of-the-month. This age-group reads voraciously and will often latch onto a genre or two with such gusto that librarians struggle to keep titles on the shelves. This can lead to outside sales, as youth are notoriously impatient when it comes to waiting.

Each month, library boards wrack their brains to find presenters who will bring patrons into their facility. They adore authors who can offer a fun or exciting program to any age group. They use you to make their library a happening place to be. After all, their funding is impacted by their circulation. And more funding means more sales and more choices, which in turn feeds circulation. It's a win-win situation for all involved.

Yet, some writers I know shy away from the library market, pooh-poohing it as an unnecessary avenue in which to sell their books. After all, library books are free, no?

Well yes, to the public. But not really, because every book on library shelves has been purchased with real money. Often times at double or triple the cost of a book store edition. Thinking e-books? Many libraries have already weighed in on the great debate and are showing their support to both patrons and writers by connecting them through e-book subscriptions.

Check out Books and Such Literary Agency's blog for a low-down on how it all works and how this motivated agency is making inroads in the marketing world. With over 2,500 on the Library Locator—the nifty thing Books and Such is part of—this "free" market could help an author sell-through and earn back an advance.

So, is the library market an untapped avenue for you as a writer, or does this free service seem a bit too trifling to pursue? Which shelves would you like to see you work on and why?

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Happens to Your Manuscript in Hollywood? Part One: Solicitation

by R.S. Mellette

Since the late 1980s I've worked in just about every department at Universal Studios, including Motion Picture Development—which is where your manuscript would land if you were to submit it to a studio. I thought you guys might like to know what would happen to your novels, screenplays, treatments, stories, etc. after you've put them in the mail or hit send.

First and foremost, no unsolicited material will be read by a studio without a release. So many writers obsess over the release that they miss asking the question, "What does 'unsolicited' mean, and how do I get my script to be solicited?"

A project (which can be anything from an unpublished manuscript to an idea written on a bar napkin) is solicited when a production executive asks to see it. So, say you're riding in that mythic elevator with Ron Meyer who says, "You're a writer? What have you written?"

And you say, "A novel about an elephant that gets into the New York City Ballet Company."

"Really? I'd like to take a look at that, can you send me a copy?"

Your work is now solicited. You get to write in the cover letter, "Per your request..."

Anything else is unsolicited. Most of an agent's job is to get their client's work to be solicited, or at least sent in as a writing sample.

So let's say you know that your novel about the dancing elephant is exactly what Hollywood needs, and you only dreamed about the elevator ride. Still, you're going to send it right to a studio no matter what. When you do, it lands on the desk of an assistant who opens your package, looks at the cover letter and sends your manuscript back in your SASE with a form letter stating the Studio will not read unsolicited material without a signed release, which is enclosed. The release basically says, "There's a good chance we have a project in development that's exactly like what you're sending us, so if we read your work and pass, you have to promise not to sue us."

You sign the release and send the manuscript back, where the assistant eagerly awaits its arrival.

Said assistant will then log the submission into the studio's tracking software. When last I did this job, the standard was a program called Studio Systems from a company called Baseline. The program is huge, and each studio and executive has it tailored to their needs.

Once logged, your work will go to the Story Department. Here it will be assigned to a reader. Of course, since your novel has no one "attached," it will sit in a pile for a long, long time. Having someone attached means they have agreed to work on the project. This isn't always a good thing.

"Charlie Sheen has agreed to star in the film version..."

Attachments can be directors, production companies, stars, or to a lesser extent famous cinematographers or executives. If you're reading this for advice and want to cut to the chase, the rule is that you should never submit a project to a studio without major attachments.

What happens to your words in the Story Department and how do you better your chances in Hollywood?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Predators

by Darke Conteur

I recently joined what I thought would be a forum where I could connect with other writers. It looked promising—nice name and everything, and my first request for friendship came later that day from a small press. I thought, "Wow, great! Making friends already!" A small press publishing house wanted to be friends, so I checked them out.

Now I understand the desire to become a published author, and how easy it would be to jump at the first good offer, but please, fellow writers, take care and research any small press if they come knocking. With the swell of self-publishing, small press publishers are popping up all over the web, and while many are earnest, there are those who will ask for several hundred dollars to do the same thing you can do or pay someone to do for you. Here are a few of the hurdles new writers fear:

1. Formatting for eBooks.
Believe it or not, (and despite what I've blogged about in the past) this is relatively simple. Smashwords has a wonderful Style Guide that helps a novice put out an eBook that is comparable to any press. I'm noticing some places will try to fancy up the wording and call it 'Custom Interior Formatting'. Honestly, what the heck does that mean? If you don't want to do it yourself, fine, there are people out there who would gladly do it for you. Look around as their prices per word vary.

2. Getting your book into Major Markets.
Some places will offer to get your book listing On Kindle Direct or Barnes and Noble. I can do that myself. Wanna know how? Upload to Kindle direct and to Barnes and Noble. Done. They will make it sound like they can get you a premium spot where your book will be on display to the entire world. Be very careful. They're playing into a new writer's fear of their book becoming lost in a sea of new books.

3. Marketing. Press Releases. I'm sorry, what now? Every time I hear this phrase, I think of teletype machines going off in newsrooms all over the world, announcing the latest celebrity scandal. Unless you're a big time author, this will do nothing to help you sell your book. Don't buy into it.

4. Cover art. Again, like formatting, this is something that you can do yourself if you choose, but there are wonderful people out there who do excellent jobs at cover art. I'm not an artist and I have no problem paying someone to create a spectacular cover for me. I mean, have you seen the cover art for my book THE WATCHTOWER? *pokes Calista Taylor*

5. Content and proof editing. I can't stress enough how incredibly important this is for self-published authors. This is the key to keep you from looking like an amateur. Normally, a good beta will do the trick, but you may want to invest in a copyeditor.

When in doubt and things sound too good to be true, follow one of their authors. Check them out online. What does their cover art look like? Can you read a sample of their work? How does the editing stand up? Better yet, check out if they have a Goodreads profile or if the book has been reviewed there. I checked out two authors of the small press that contacted me, and I was not impressed. For the amount of work and publicity they offered, both authors should have had incredible feedback on their Amazon book sites, and you know what, neither did.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life is Like Writing ... In the Fast Lane

by R.C. Lewis

I recently did a post on my blog about observations on writing related to all my time on the road. As soon as I posted it, a couple more writing parallels struck me during my daily commute.

It's all about getting on the freeway.

First, we have the on-ramp. When I was in driver's ed, they taught me that the reason we have on-ramps instead of making right turns onto the freeway is so we have a chance to get up to speed. Some drivers must have missed that day in class. You don't want to be going 20 mph slower (or faster) than everyone else when you get there.

Same thing in our stories. Are we pushing the action forward at the right rate? Increasing the tension and intrigue steadily? Or are we dragging things out? Rushing them too much? We need to hit the right pace at the right time.

Once we get to the end of the ramp, we have to merge. Other cars are already on the freeway, and we need to tuck ourselves in ahead of some and behind others. When I was a new driver, I realized that merging is an art form. You have to prepare for it way ahead of time, watching traffic, predicting where you'll fit in, adjusting your speed.

The same art applies to merging threads in our narratives, particularly if there are two parallel storylines that eventually converge. We can't just jam them together—we have to see the merge as we're approaching. Chapters in advance, we have to see how they're going to mesh and nudge them toward each other.

I know these are silly "life is like writing" metaphors, but I find when they occur to me, they make me think of a new angle to check in my manuscripts. Maybe it's my teaching background—when trying to help a student grasp a new concept, I relate it to something much more familiar to them.

Do you have any metaphors you like to use in analyzing your writing (silly or otherwise)? How do they help you get your story on-track?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Trust Your Betas, They Are Wise

by Mindy McGinnis

So I've got a monster under my bed. I shared a little bit about this monster on my personal blog, but today I want to extrapolate on the situation. The monster in question is a trunked ms. It's like an ex-boyfriend that you know has serious issues, but he's got a great voice so you keep taking his calls.

My goal last week was to give that monster ex-boyfriend an attitude adjustment, make him see his wrongdoings and wrangle him into good shape. In other words, he graduated from under the bed to in the bed. But don't misinterpret that last bit; it's where I do my writing.

This particular ms was suffering from some tense issues. Every now and then my 1st POV narrator wanted to slip into present tense while speaking about the past. I call it The Wonder Years Syndrome. In my head, it worked. But every one of my betas was like, "Dude, you've got a tense issue here." And I was like, "No, it's The Wonder Years Syndrome."

Yet that never seemed to be a sufficient explanation.

So I walked away from Monster Ex-Boyfriend and treated myself to a successful new relationship. But those bad apples are irresistible, and I ended up digging him out and applying that stern talking-to. And you know what? My friends were right. There is something not quite right about him, but I was too close to the situation to see it. I wanted to Wonder-Years-Syndrome explain away his issues, but after some time away they were glaring.

But I love the underdog. When I go to the pound I overlook the lost purebreds and take home a three-legged dog with asthma and leprosy. I applied a liberal dose of self-editing, and the ex is currently in the hands of a particularly ruthless beta, who will definitely let me know if there are any lingering problems.

And maybe this time, I'll listen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blog Tours

by Darke Conteur

There is a pile of new authors coming out of the woodwork on a daily basism, all clawing and scratching to get your attention. Some of their self-promotion is good, and some, well, let's just say it isn't and leave it at that. Granted, what works for one person doesn't always work for another, and if you don't feel comfortable doing something others say worked for them, then fine! That's them, not you.

I can think of one good idea to promote oneself—a blog tour.

When I first started talking about it, I had a lot of people ask me what it was. Seems it's a new thing, but I'm seeing more and more authors doing it. Think of it as a virtual book tour, and I think they're great. Here are a few things I learned as I was planning mine.

1. What kind of tour do you want to do?
There are a number of ways you can go about this: author interviews, character interviews, post about what your book is about, or the genre, or a mixture of all three. I'm doing a character interview tour, but because Ebook Endeavours is about marketing, Lindsay asked me to do a post along that line. Be prepared for sudden changes in the lineup. Not everyone may want an in-depth analysis of your genre.

2. How many 'stops' should you make?
I've seen some authors talk about doing thirty to fifty posts on one tour. That's a lot! Might I suggest a number a little more manageable, say ten to twenty? Especially if this is your first tour. My only concern with doing high-number tours is that after a while you may run out of things to talk about. It's always good to have a fresh post for each blog. It entices the reader to keep an eye out for your next post, and in the end, isn't that what the tour is about? Gathering interest in our work?

3. Who should I ask?
This is completely up to you. Right now, there aren't that many people other than authors/writers who would host a blog tour. This is still a new marketing tool, but I'm sure as it gains more in popularity, more options will become available.

4. Offer to return the favour.
Karma, my friends, is a good thing. With each blog tour stop you make, you're exposing your work to new and potential followers, but this isn't just a one-way street. Offering to host blog tours will bring in more potential followers, and if they like what they see, they may stick around.

5. Keep up with comments.
If you're hosting a blog tour, might I suggest that you inform the guest blogger of any comments on their post. This will allow the guest blogger to reply in a timely fashion.

Alas, my time has come to an end. Have you done a blog tour? How did you like it? Did it work for you? I'm always looking for ways to improve and if you have a suggestion, we'd love to hear it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Give Those Agents a Break!

by Jemi Fraser

So? Are you NaNo-did, NaNo-didn't, NaNo-done or NaNo-brain-dead?

November has been a crazy month for the many writers who participated in NaNoWriMo. A lot of bright and shiny new ideas have taken flight. A lot of shiny new ideas have dulled, dried up and jumped into the recycling box of their own volition.

If you've finished, or are about to finish, your 50k in 30 days, good for you! I'll do a happy dance for you ... once I find my energy again.

Whatever you do, for the love of all that's pure and golden in this universe, do NOT, under any circumstances query your NaNo novel yet! All great NaNo novels (yes, even yours) need to marinate. They need to sit and simmer. And you need to let them.

This is non-negotiable.

Give that novel a few weeks. Then go back. Reread. You'll be amazed at some of the things you've written. You'll find some nuggets of gold. You'll also find some nuggets of ... yeah, that.

Your NaNo needs some loving attention after November is over. Reread. Revise. Revise again. Polish. Shine it up. Then, when you're sure it's the best it can possibly be, that's when you start researching agents who are going to fight over it.

But do those lovely agents you hope to work with one day a great big favour. Don't query yet. You'll be doing yourself a favour too!

Any NaNo stories (success, horror or otherwise) to share?

Friday, November 25, 2011


By Matt Sinclair

So, was it good for you, too? No! I meant Thanksgiving. You know, the annual day in which family members believe it's fine and dandy to tell other family that they're making terrible mistakes in their life and that if they had only listened to them, their problems would have all been sorted out by now. Oh, and this wine is terrible!

What? That doesn't happen to you? No, me neither. Really.

Anyway, one thing most people love about Thanksgiving is the leftovers. Personally, I'm happy there's usually a couple beers left that I can have for the long holiday weekend, but I can't say no to a turkey sandwich on Friday. Of course, for writers, every day can be a day to give thanks, and every day is a day to behold the value of leftovers.

What I'm talking are those tasty story morsels you trimmed off your 150,000 word YA novel, or the chapter that showed how your main character met his first girl friend in third grade, or the offbeat character you loved but who didn't move the story at all. Is last year's NaNo novel still eating away at your mind even though you swore you'd never look at it again after you saw all the typos, plot flops, and gross misappropriations of Twilight story lines? Take another look. There probably was something worth revising. What have you got to lose? Bring a beer with you.

Sometimes reheating an old story line is better than the whole turkey enchilada you were gnawing on the day before. What do you do with them? I like making short stories out of mine, and I've had tossed-aside characters re-emerge in other story lines that were more appropriate for them. I know of a writer who took an ancillary character from one failed plot and started a new novel with her.

The possibilities are truly endless, unlike the shelf life of what you shoved into the the fridge last night. I'll keep this post short today, because it's also Black Friday and you're either shopping or taking advantage of the long weekend to try to make up the 15,000 word shortage you have on your current NaNo. Good luck!

But one more thing: avoid the stuffing. It really won't help your story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This Writer Is Thankful—And Not Just for Her Book Contract Either

by Sophie Perinot

As Thanksgiving approaches (yeah, it’s the day after tomorrow so if you don’t have a turkey yet you’d better get moving) I’ve been spending a little time pondering what I am grateful for when I wear my writer’s hat.

Some things are pretty obvious. Like my book deal. This time last year I didn’t have my deal, and it represents the realization of a huge dream and a bit of validation (take that all you casual, social acquaintances who smirked when I said I was writing a novel and thought I was just some eccentric nut job) so when my family gives thanks around a table groaning with goodies I will be thankful for my deal. But I am also thankful for a number of things that might surprise you and that, I hope, will help you to view events along your personal writing road with new (slightly more grateful) eyes.

I am thankful that my first novel didn’t sell. Honestly, I am. Mind you I thought it was “shelf-worthy” and so did my agent, and when we had our last “near miss” with an editor I felt like the bottom fell out of my world. But, funny thing, I realize now that while it might make a brilliant “later work” it would have be a very challenging debut to market. Being a debut novelist is über-challenging these days. The number of books coming into the market each year is staggering. The retail outlets for those books are contracting. The time each book spends in stores seems to be getting shorter and shorter. In addition, authors are expected to do a great deal of self-promotion and marketing—something that demands a different skill set than writing a good book, a skill set an author may or may not have. Bad sales figures on a first novel can make it an only novel. So, if you are going to throw the newbie-novelist dice you want those dice loaded in your favor. That means you want your first book to be not just the BEST thing you written but also the MOST marketable. The novel I’ve got scheduled to come out in March is more marketable than my first MS was. I can see that now. I guess publishers just saw that before I did.

I am thankful for every person who said, “This isn’t working,” whether about an idea, a character, a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter in any of my manuscripts. I am thankful for the critique partners who held my feet to the fire and said, “Really? Come on you can do better than that.” I am even grateful for the time my own mother told me that one of my projects just wasn’t that great. It is A LOT easier for beta readers to pat you on the back and croon “good job.” Really critiquing a manuscript (or a query letter) takes time and energy. It also takes guts. So tough, honest, critique partners and editors who send highly detailed editorial letters are high on my list of things I am thankful for and they should be on yours too (maybe you have a slice of homemade pumpkin pie you’d like to share with them this week?).

I am thankful that I have an agent who has strong opinions about which project I should write next. Lots of writers seem to chafe at the idea that once they are represented their agents might want to “vote” on which projects they pursue or even (*gasp*) veto some of those projects. Why? If you are writing just to pursue your creative passion then by all means write that book about a man who falls in love with his goldfish only to eat it in a fit of pique, told in the first person from the POV of the goldfish. But if you want writing to be your career (hopefully a money making career) then shouldn’t you want your market-savvy, experienced agent to guide you (e.g. “you know books with fish protagonists that run 200k are not particularly marketable”)? I had a project planned (research in the can, all ready to write) before starting the manuscript that became The Sister Queens. I shared that idea with my agent and he, politely, pointed out that it was incredibly and relentlessly depressing—quite possibly too depressing to be marketable. Believe it or not, I hadn’t noticed this (my dear husband had, but I, or so he now claims, completely ignored him when he made the point). Of course a writer’s vote counts too and sometimes we have to go with our gut, but if I am going to put months of my life into writing a new book I’d rather have a candid assessment from my agent up front as to whether or not he thinks he will be able to sell it.

I am thankful for the few (see next paragraph for a discussion of the majority) established authors I’ve met who were unkind, and the few fellow writers I’ve met who, imo, were incredibly unprofessional. Watching writers behave badly is a valuable cautionary tale. For example listening to certain writers scream (or tweet) “buy my book, buy my book, buy my book” has shown me how ineffective and irritating that behavior is (and as writers we know that SHOW is always better than TELL). Writers who were snippy, catty, or hyper-competitive illustrated just how ugly that behavior is, and reminded me that being nice to others doesn’t take any longer than being unpleasant.

Perhaps most of all I am thankful for the dozens and dozens of fellow writers who have overwhelmed me with support, generous advice and random acts of kindness. These are the folks who’ve realized that a rising tide of high-quality reading materials—and, correspondingly, of avid readers—lifts all authorial boats. The people I complained about in the last paragraph will be forgotten tomorrow. But I will always remember the folks at AgentQuery Connect who held my hand and covered my back during the query and submission processes; the established historical fiction authors who sat down with me at writing conferences and corresponded with me on-line offering useful tips on everything from participating in the cover process to marketing and planning for the next book; and the advanced readers who have taken the time to endorse my novel, to put it on their “to review” list, or simply to tell me they enjoyed it.

As you walk the “writers’ path” this November what are you most thankful for? Did any of the things you are now grateful for look like bumps in the road when you saw them first?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writing Lessons from a Mannequin: Building Character

by Cat Woods

While in Chicago last fall, Dear Hubby and I awoke one night to a very loud and still-unidentified vibration. It was 4:30 in the morning. My courageous DH braved the boogey man and opened our hotel door.

"You have to see this."

I headed into the hall in my nightie only to be confronted by a slim porcelain leg. Actually four legs. 

Needless to say, we giggled ourselves back to sleep, and over the  next few days, shared the hysterical pictures of the motionless mannequins as they made their way around the 17th floor.

Incidentally, their antics got me thinking about characters.

To me, characters are the essence of a great book. I would rather read a dull plot with exciting characters than an inspiring plot with motionless mannequins.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Mister and Missus Mann E. Quin's Chicago antics. I just don't want to read about them for an entire novel. In fact, following lifeless, expressionless characters through the twists and turns of a riveting story is the fastest way for a book to get dropped from my reading list into the nearest dumpster.

And so I bring you:

Writing Lessons from a Mannequin
  1. Give your characters a head. Seriously, Mister and Missus were headless wonders. I suppose it's so we don't freak out by finding our neighbor's mug on an overgrown doll, but still.  Characters in novels need a good head on their shoulders.  Don't get me wrong, they don't need a high IQ, they just need to have motive and reason.  They can't simply bumble around and stumble upon the murderer's identity.  They cannot spend an entire novel ducking at all the right times so as not to get shot.  This ploy only works in picture books and slap stick comedy.  So unless that's what you're writing, give your character a head and some brains to go along with it.
  2. But if you choose to stick with brawn, please give your characters some flaws. The perfectly sculpted creatures in the hall were a bit unnerving. I mean who wants to gaze at flawless wonders? No scars marred their porcelain skin. No wrinkles or stretch marks or love handles could be found. Not a single mole or ingrown toenail existed between the lovely couple. Ugh. Make your MCs real.  Give us something to love and hate, to laugh at and laugh with.  Make them human, or we--your naturally flawed readers--will never relate to them.
  3. And don't forget the details that make your MCs unique. Mister and Missus Mann E. Quin were barely distinguishable from each other. Granted Mister had more muscle tone and Missus had larger...pecs. But all in all, a slimmer build doth not set characters apart. Nothing about Mister's physique indicated his penchant for scotch and water, and we had no clue from Missus' calves that she was a bit capricious with a loyalty stronger than our aging black lab's. All we really knew was that they enjoyed frolicking nekkid in the halls of a very prestigious hotel.  They could have been any number of mannequins roaming the streets of Chicago.  A fate not good enough for your novels.
  4. And lastly, throw in a little intrigue. Aside from obvious character traits, it's fun to give your MC a bit of mystery. Provide a quirk of some kind that plays into the larger picture. One that subtly speaks of the past and promises interest in the future. Yep, our otherwise silent friends did have one quirk that made DH and I scratch our heads in wonder. Mann E. wore a hard hat. One day it was yellow. Another day it was white. Sometimes there was writing on it and other times it was blank. He often shared it with Missus.  Intriguing to say the least, and a quirk that begged an answer: Why? 

Which brings me full-circle to Lesson One. Characters in novels need to be fully fleshed out and have the tools they need to succeed. Consider the MC's obsessive fascination with insects who solves the murder-by-poison mystery or the physically outmatched parkour nerd who outruns the bad guys in a maze-like trap. Often, it's these quirky personality traits, latent abilities, obsessive passions and physical flaws that save the day. 

They must be in our writing before they are needed so as to feel organic to the characters and the story.  They are the clues and red herrings we use as building blocks for the characters populating our novels.  They are pieces of the whole our readers will fall in love with.

Without an MC who leaps off the page and feels real--who makes us care enough to keep reading--we might as well knock around town with a headless doll in tow.  While this might be fun for a little while, eventually the weight will drag us down and we'll be tempted to ditch Mann E. in the nearest dumpster along with those nasty, characterless books.

How about you?  Do you like your characters perfect or do strive for realism?  Can a character be too realistic as to be fake?  If so, where is that line and how do we balance it as writers?  What tips do you have for building strong characters? 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Five Rules For Writing Sci-Fi

by R.S. Mellette

First of all, let me state where I come down on the Sci-Fi/Science Fiction debate.

For those who aren't into the genre, several years ago a movement headed by Science Fiction author Harlan Ellison, took issue with the classification of Sci-Fi. They felt it excluded them from consideration as literature. Fine. Point taken. I'm a firm believer that the X-Men series is one of the greatest examples of pure American Literature you can find. A Connecticut Yankee In King Author's Court is clearly Science Fiction, and no one would ever question the literary worth of Mark Twain.

With respect to the genre of Science Fiction, I proudly state that I write Sci-Fi. Literature be damned. I'd rather write a book that kids sneak into bed at night than one that teachers assign. Given a choice between literary success and sales, I'll take sales every time. Why?—besides, you know, me being able to pay my bills? There is no better review than a working person plunking down their hard-earned cash—or a kid spending his/her allowance—to read my stories.

And Time decides what is and is not literature, not professors, critics, or authors.

So, given that I'm a hack wannabe, let's look at a few rules that apply to Sci-Fi, or Science Fiction even, that might not be an issue with other genres.

  •      Rule Number One: Don't break your own rules. The world that you create will have its own logic and psycho-logic. These may not be as rigid as a map at the beginning of fantasy epics, but once you establish a parameter for your world, you'd best stick to it—or present a plausible, logical, way around the rules. That leads us to:
  •      Rule Number Two: Never invent a gadget or technology that can solve every problem. Sure, Dr. Who's sonic screwdriver can do nearly anything he wants done when he wants it. That "nearly" makes all the difference in the world. Your job as a writer is to create problems for your heroes that are insurmountable. We, the readers, then have the pleasure of seeing how they surmount them. If the heroes have an everything-proof impossible-problem-solver-gadget, then we don't have any fun. Unless the author is Douglas Adams.
  •      Rule Number Three: Escalation of powers. This is a big issue in series writing—be it TV, novels, movies, comics, etc. If, in one episode, your hero fights off a hundred villains singlehandedly, what are you going to do when you need him/her to be captured by a single villain in the next? The answer can be found in:
  •      Rule Number Four: Always have Kryptonite. Your superhero can't be TOO super or s/he becomes an everything-proof impossible-problem-solver. There must be a weakness, and the best of these (I think) are internal, emotional, soft spots.
  •      Rule Number Five: Make it personal. Don't fall into the 1990's Hollywood trap of thinking that special effects and cool stuff is all you need to entertain an audience. Healthy heart scenes beat out eye-candy every time. James Bond's toys are fun, but never as much fun as the way the character uses them. He is cool. His stuff is just stuff.

That should be enough to get the conversation started. What have I left out? What rules apply no matter the genre?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crossing the Bridge: Song Structure and Plot

by J. Lea Lopez

I was marveling the other day about how some of my favorite singer-songwriters can really tell a whole story in a four-minute song. I love a good ballad, especially. The music, lyrics, the singer's voice, everything works together to take you on a roller coaster ride of emotion. I tend to write character-driven stories, and it's that same gut-wrenching ride that I strive to impart to my reader. This got me thinking. What can fiction writers learn from songwriters? The answer, I believe, lies in structure.

Thinking back to your elementary and middle school English classes, you may remember charting the plot of a book using something like this:

Look familiar? Was I the only one who felt constricted by this particular diagram? Exposition and rising action were no problem. For the most part, falling action was a no-brainer, and denouement was easy peasy. But I often faltered around the climax. (Please, no psychoanalysis of that statement is necessary.) In many books, the climax felt more like a series of events—a plateau, if you will. And that straight line of rising action is really more of a procession of peaks and valleys. When you break it down, it looks a bit like a song. (For these purposes, "song" refers mainly to current popular music. Song structure varies greatly, not only within but across genres as well.)

The exposition is your basic intro, and the rising action starts with the first verse, followed by the chorus. The verse tells the story, and the chorus gives you the overall theme of the song. (Don't ask me why, but I'd never realized this basic premise of storytelling vs. theme until I read it in those concrete terms, and then I thought of just about every song I'd ever heard and—whaddya know? It's true!) Many songs also have a bridge, which I have come to realize is my favorite part.

Let's take a listen to one of my recent favorites, Take it All, by Adele.

The verse does indeed tell you the story, and the chorus gives you the theme. When the chorus comes in for the first time, there's a burst of new emotion, like a mini-climax, before we come back down a notch for another verse. The bridge starts around 2:08—this is where you hear things change, and instead of coming back down to the emotional/dynamic level of the verse again, we start another build of emotion. It's not a one-note type of climax, it's a gradual build toward and satisfying release from the point of highest emotional impact. The repetition of the chorus closes the song and drives home the general theme again. Was it as good for you as it was for me? A great song has you yearning for that bridge, for those few bars where it all comes together and makes the hair on your arms stand up.

So let's go one more time. Gravity, by Sara Bareilles, is another song that gives you the same ebb and flow of tension in the alternation of verse and chorus, then knocks your socks off with a great bridge (which starts at 2:25). I dare you to try not to get swept up in the tension. I've listened to this song hundreds of times, and I still take a deep breath at the peak of the bridge, when she sings the word "down," and hold it until she releases. Exquisite.

So what can we take away from this (besides learning of my penchant for soulful female singer-songwriters)?

Instead of a three-act structure, or the linear rise and fall in those old plot charts that seem to turn on a dime at the apex, think of your story as a song, or a series of songs. Tell your story in the verses, intertwined with conflicts that help us understand the overarching themes of your novel (the chorus). Build toward that spine-tingling climax. I want you to take me over the bridge. Give me a few moments to savor the dizzying heights before you wrap me up in another cozy chorus and send me on my way.

You can use this structure on both a micro and macro level to weave a story rich with tension and emotion that reaches nearly addictive highs. If you can do that, you'll have me coming back for more of your product again, and again, and again...

What other aspects of songwriting can you apply to fiction? What songs intoxicate YOU with their emotion and powerful storytelling?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confessions of a NaNo Newbie

by R.C. Lewis

Okay, I admit it. I've never done NaNoWriMo before, and I never thought I would. I have reasons, though.

November 2009: I joined my first online writers' community on November 1st. I'm sure I heard about it at some point that month, but I was still getting my bearings and trying to figure out what to do with my one finished manuscript.

November 2010: When the month came around, I was on the homestretch of the third novel in my little trilogy, and my goal was to finish the draft before Thanksgiving. (I met that goal with days to spare—go, me!) I also started drafting snippets of my next project near the beginning of the month. I figured I was busy and motivated enough without official NaNo-ness.

October 2011: I registered an account on the NaNo website. Why now?

Confession #1: So far, I'm finding it's pretty much the same as my usual writing pace. I'm even ahead of the curve right now. (I know! It's only the second week—still plenty of time for me to crash.) So it's not the "fire under the butt" aspect that made me join up this year.

Confession #2: When I saw the ready-made stats and graph provided on the website, I had to say, "Be still, my math-geeking heart!" But if I wanted to, I could set the same thing up in Excel. In fact, I probably will. So it's not that.

Confession #3: It's not even the much-reputed camaraderie. I'm reasonably social in small-to-medium groups, whether in real life or online. I only get into something involving a really large group for specific reasons. My existing writerly support systems (ahem—AgentQuery Connect) are comfortable and sufficient. When I'm really rolling on a writing project, I just want to roll.

All right, already—so why did I give into peer pressure and join NaNo this year?

License to experiment.

This annual "special occasion" for writerdom let me give myself permission to take one month off from my usual fare and try something different—in my case, YA Contemporary rather than something in the speculative fiction realm. Is it something I would ever want to query and/or publish? Maybe not. (Of course, you never know.) But I'm stretching myself in a different direction, playing with new elements, which is a lot of fun.

Maybe during another year's NaNo, I'll try writing a non-YA novel. Maybe a mystery. Maybe I'll dive into a more complicated narrative structure. Maybe something that hasn't occurred to me as any kind of possibility yet.

What drew you to NaNoWriMo? If you're not into NaNo, what kinds of out-of-the-box experimentation do you hope to have the guts to try someday?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Listmaker, Listmaker, Make Me A List

by Mindy McGinnis

I’m slightly OCD. It’s one of the qualifications for librarianship.

OK, not really, but I find that the hyper-responsibility side effects are valuable in all three venues of my life—home, work, and writing career.

I could spend every hour of each day on one of these aspects, but that would mean the other two falter and die. The first type of death means that no one in my household eats or has clean clothes. The second would translate into a pile of books on the bookcart and hundreds of cranky, panicked teenagers. The third means no forward motion towards my goal of publication. None. No new blog posts, no networking tweets, no AQC downtime, and definitely no additional word count on the WIP.

None of these things are acceptable.

So I give a little to all three each day, and the only way to keep myself straight on what needs to be done is by taking a very simple, yet highly effective time-management step. I make lists.

I use a Stickies program on my laptop to manage my three-ring circus. The yellow sticky lists my household duties for the day, which I try to manage one thing at a time. Monday is vacuuming, Tuesday dusting, dishes are done every other day and laundry waits for the weekend. The pink sticky directs my attention to the most pressing needs in the workplace, listed by priority. The wall above my desk serves as a big-picture amalgamation of stickies telling me what needs to be accomplished long term.

Interesting genetic factoid: my sister (also a co-worker) pointed out that the wall above our Dad’s desk at the homestead looks exactly the same.

And lastly, my green sticky tells me what I need to be doing in writing-career land. And it doesn’t say—HEY YOU! WRITE A BOOK! There are many ways to keep the literary brain cranking, and I need quiet and uninterrupted stretches of time to nail down that WIP.

So what does the green sticky say?

It has links to various web pages that are helping me out with my research, so that I can easily hit up information during short downtimes. There are reminders about critiques that I need to get back to betas, ideas for blog posts, names of people I want to contact for interviews, and titles of books that I want to read and review.

Sounds like a lot, but all of those little steps are furthering me down the path of my writing career, and they can be addressed during the brief moments during the day that chance sometimes allots to me. I guess in the end that’s the secret to my time-management; knowing to address the little goals during little moments, and constantly reminding myself that the big goal for the evening is to crack out another 1k.

The other secret isn’t such a secret—don’t be lazy.

Sure, I’d rather watch Firefly reruns sometimes, but I’m reminded of a sports t-shirt I had in high school that read—“Whenever you are not practicing, somewhere, your opponent is, and when you meet, s/he will win.”

I might not actually wear a t-shirt that says, “Somewhere another writer wants to watch Firefly too, but they’re writing instead. And they’re published.”

But you get the idea.

Friday, November 4, 2011

eBook Cover Design

by Calista Taylor

More and more authors are turning to e-publishing as a way to build a platform and get their works read. Whether you're publishing a short story or a full length novel, your cover will often make or break you.

A graphic artist can certainly help you get a great cover, but if it's not in your budget, then you can always make your own. There are a few basics which can help you make an awesome cover, but the most important will be a sense of adventure—that means you can't be scared to experiment.

Here are a few tips to get you started. Remember, these are the basics for an eBook cover, not a print cover. Also ... a bit of a disclaimer. I've learned how to make eBook covers by experimenting, and am completely self-taught. But hey, if I can do it, then so can you!

Getting Started
  • You'll need a graphic design program. There are several free programs available, such as Gimp and I personally like using Photoshop, but it's an expensive program, though it will offer you the most options, especially regarding brushes (kind of like a stencil). One option is to pick up a used copy via Craigslist or eBay (I know I've seen them there, though I'm not sure of the legality of reselling the software), and there are also student versions of the program available. One more thing ... there are often 30-90 day trials of software.
  • Determine the "feel" you want for your cover—does it feel modern, edgy, romantic, sweet, dark, etc. It will be a lot easier to find images with the right feel versus trying to find the exact image that you have in mind.
  • You'll need to find some stock photos. Make sure you check the copyright regulations of the image you plan on using. There are stock photo sites, but prices can vary. I've found BigStockPhoto to be very reasonable. Also DeviantArt has a stock photo section (be sure to check each artist's rules for use), and some artists have pre-made backgrounds available for use (search pre-made background). Flickr is another great option, and has an advance search option for photos that are part of Creative Commons.
  • Pinpoint your genre and then investigate what the covers for that genre look like. Your cover should immediately bring to mind your genre. It's not that you can't stray from the norm, since you obviously want your cover to stand out, but readers need to easily identify the genre of your book at a quick glance.
  • Take the time to look at covers and see what works and what doesn't. When looking at these covers, really look. Look at the font, the position of the various elements, any effects used, the perspective of the images and how they relate to each other.
  • Play around with the program you'll be using to familiarize yourself with the basics. If you're not sure how to do something, use the help feature. YouTube also has some excellent tutorials. And don't forget to right click on items, since they will often bring up a completely different menu option, depending on the program.
  • Remember, any images, fonts, etc. will need to translate when viewed as a thumbnail, and will also need to look good when viewed in grey scale (for e-ink readers).
The Basics
  • Your image size can vary a bit, but I usually set my size to 6.6" x 9.5" and my resolution to 300 pixels/inch. As a side note, many like to use the size best suited to an iPad screen, which is 768 x 1024 ppi. To me it feels a bit narrow, and I like having the extra space my size gives me.
  • "Cut out" whatever images you will be using. These can be saved as a .png in order to give them a transparent background. When using an image, make sure the image size isn't too small, since that can lead to fuzzy and pixelated images (usually anything over 800x800 is ok).
  • Start to layer your images. Each image or effect should be on a different layer so that you can adjust the opacity (and/or fill) of each layer. By varying the opacity, you can start to blend the images so that they don't feel like they're sitting there separate from each other.
  • Pick a font (copyright free) that will once again give you a sense of the genre or story. This font will also need to easy to read in a thumbnail. To make the letters "pop" and standout against the background, use the drop shadow option, and adjust it so that it spreads behind the letters to give them a backdrop.
  • When layering and picking images, keep in mind the perspective of the images in relation to each other. It's too easy to have people floating around a cover.
  • Draw a reader's attention by using a bold graphic or a bright color.
  • If available to you, use brushes (they act like stencils) to add little details to your cover. These little details will help your cover look more polished. A variety of free brushes can be found once again at DeviantArt.
  • Once you're ready to upload your completed book cover, save it one last time (under a different file name) and change the ppi to 75. This will ensure that your file isn't too large for uploads and downloads. The reason to work in the higher ppi is because you'll retain a clear image if you're decreasing the ppi, where as if you ever need a higher ppi, you will not get a clear image if you try to increase the ppi from a smaller number.
  • As a side note, I also like to add the book cover as the first page of my manuscript before I save, format and convert it for uploading. Since some e-readers don't show the book cover, posting your book cover image as the first page gives the reader the chance to visually remember your cover and story.
I do hope you'll give it a try. Like most things, it'll take a bit of experimenting and even some not quite so successful attempts before you get the hang of it, but I promise, once you start to get comfortable with the programs and techniques, you'll be amazed at what you can do.

Have you tried to make your own eBook cover? Do you have any tips or recommendations?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

By Darke Conteur

Ever had that dream where you're late for your exam and you jump out of bed, run to school, only to arrive within the last few minutes? Then the bell goes off and everyone looks back at you. It's then, you look down and realize you forgot to get dressed and you're butt naked?

Yeah, we've all had that dream. It alerts us to something in our lives that we're stressing on. Most of the time it's something small, but even the smallest of problems can feel like a great weight on our shoulders.

Writing comes with its fair share of anxiety. From the moment we decide to write that novel, we're bombarded with self-doubt about or skill, the story, or how it will be received. Sometimes before we've written the first word! It's human nature to have these doubts, but it's how we deal with them that's the real test. Every writer has had moments when they feel their world has crashed down around them. Something's gone wrong, and it feels like your career has ended before it's begun. Before you throw in the towel and declare you passion dead, take a deep breath. It may not be as bad as you think.

We strive so hard to put out a perfect product, and when we see a flaw in our work—no matter how small—we take it as a black mark on our accomplishments, but is it really? Some problems can be fixed, so swallow your embarrassment and fix them. Having a 'do-over' is nothing to be ashamed about. People will not think any less of you. Just the opposite. Seeing the mistakes and correcting them means you take pride in your work, and there's nothing wrong with that. Other things may be out of your control, leaving you to do nothing more but chalk them up as a life-lesson and move on. You've done your best and that's what matters.

Sweating the small stuff only causes embarrassing underarm stains and wrinkles.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloween. No day can evoke more tingles and shivers than October 31st. For a change, a few of us at FTWA thought we would share a story that scared the crap out of us. Most are movies, but movies are stories, right? So here we go…

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Robert Lewis

There always seems to be that ONE movie that scared the crap out you as a kid. Maybe it was The Legend of Boggy Creek, maybe The Omen, or maybe The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For me, however, it will always be Herk Harvey's 1962 "Carnival of Souls" starring Candace Hilligoss. Not only is it eerie and scary as hell, it also has one of the creepiest-looking dudes ever seen on film:

See what I mean?

The story is about Mary Henry (Hilligoss) who is out one day driving with friends. They're challenged to a drag race and during the race her car careens off a bridge and into a river. She's the only survivor. A church organist, she moves to a new town, new job, so she can start over.

But then she starts to ... see things, including the man above. Strange events begin to happen to her, like one moment she's in a busy department store and then it's suddenly empty. The only people she sees in these strange, surreal moments are zombie-like, staring at her as she passes by. I can't tell you more, as I don't want to spoil the film, but needless to say, it's a VERY effective horror flick. I can still remember watching it one Sunday afternoon on Channel 5 KTLA in Los Angeles, and how I had nightmares all that night and rest of the week. There were nights where I would wake up, the San Fernando Valley winds howling, the trees outside my window scratching and clacking on the glass, seeing that man's face in the corner of my room, watching me.

Carnival of Souls. If you've never seen it, get ye to The Netflix!

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Darke Conteur

I have always been drawn to stories that frighten me. It's like an addiction; I can't get enough even though I know I'll get very little sleep afterward. Most movies I watched as a child were the old, campy B movies; Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, something I watched on television to kill a Saturday afternoon. It wasn't until I saw the movie CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1973) that I was truly scared.

Actors led by Alan Ormsby go to graveyard on remote island to act out necromantic ritual. The ritual works, and soon the dead are walking about and chowing down on human flesh.

Part of the flesh-eating zombie trope that exploded in the early '70s, by today's standards it's campy and stupid, but for a ten year old, it gave me nightmares for three months. I learned to jump from the doorway to my bed in one leap and I am proud to say that I can sleep with the covers over my head and not suffocate! It should be a part of any ghoul's zombie collection!

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Cat Woods

Movies don't scare me. Not in the Friday the Thirteenth and Nightmare on Elm Street-murderer-on-the-rampage-for-no-reason sense. These are child's play. Fiction at its finest, yet fiction none-the-less. Actors can shake their hockey sticks all they want and I remain unfazed.

The movies that strike terror into my heart are psychological thrillers.

When a movie could be reality? That's when the goosebumps pop and I literally shiver from the inside out. Only one honest-to-God-teeth-chattering movie stands out in my mind. Cape Fear.

Childhood fears: One Halloween when I was about six, my sister and I had to visit our biological father. After dinner, he watched a double header of B-rated horror flicks.

Terrifying shadow creatures lived in the basement and drug people down the stairs to brutally torture and kill them in the first movie. With no place else to go, my sis and I cowered behind the couch and listened to the screams of the dying victims. That night we had to sleep in the glass-walled library with the door closed off to the rest of the house. My sister never recovered, and to this day she cannot go down into a basement without every single light on.

The second movie was about scientists injecting liquid into people's brains, turning them into mindless killing machines. Something about the glazed expression in their eyes and the personality flips caused by the drug scared me far more than the basement creatures ever did.

I guess that night killed all hope of Freddie Krueger terrorizing me. However, it left the door wide open to the darkness residing in the depths of the human mind.

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Matt Sinclair

Like many people, when I think of scary stories, my first thoughts tend toward movies, where the images are so evident. There was a movie whose name I quickly forgot, but its opening scenes have remained with me ever since. Picture this: I’m a small boy, age 7 or 8, getting his last few minutes of television in before summer vacation. My family owned a home toward the eastern end of Long Island, where the TV reception was awful (or my parents knew that television and summer vacations were a bad mix.

It didn’t matter what I watched, as long as it was TV. I turned it on and found the beginning of a movie. A young woman receives an unexpected package. She opens it and finds a set of binoculars. For reasons lost to the young boy I was, the woman was excited and immediately went to look through the binoculars. The she let out a blood-curdling scream as her eyes were impaled.

Just then, my father rallied the troops and I turned off the TV, but that confusing moment of horror remains.

In a sense, I hope some reader here knows the name of the film so I can view it as an adult and possibly understand that it wasn’t what I thought it was. Perhaps it was acid around the rims of the eyepieces. That would be much easier for me to handle.

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How about you? Any super-scary stories to share?